It was a rather odd moment I encountered the other day when I found myself arguing with a poster on an internet forum about Julius Evola, the obscure Italian traditionalist writer, and using the philosophy of Max Stirner to launch my attack on his ideas about spirituality, mysticism and the occult. For those of you unaware, Max Stirner was an egoist philosopher whose most famous work “The Ego and its Own” was a thorough critique on fixed ideas, or as he called them, spooks. Ideas that existed in society which possessed individuals, having them act as if the idea was more important than their own self.
To most people, this conversation must have been utterly incomprehensible. Stirner and Evola are practically unknown to the general public, but they each have devoted followings in their respective corners. Evola, among fascists and traditionalists, and Stirner has always had friends in anarchist and leftist communities.
It struck me that this was more than a coincidence, that there was something of a trend we were both participating in. Google seems to agree with me. The majority of searches of Evola and Stirner come from their native countries, but in the United States Stirner has been gaining in popularity to levels unseen in 9 years while Evola has been holding steady in the same amount of time.
The spike in Stirner’s popularity is probably due to his ascendance to a meme in leftist forums and social media circles, his philosophy on a purely superficial level is useful to dismiss the foundations of traditionalism, fascism, racism, liberalism, and even marxist-leninism as pure madness; the product of evaluating imaginary ideals as greater than oneself.
But on a deeper level, I think that the most recent embrace of Stirner (as Stirner’s popularity seems to come and go in waves in the US since the first english translation in came to our anarchist circles in 1886) is a profound reaction to the increasing radicalization of fascists and liberals online. Each in their own corners have embraced an attitude where all is an acceptable sacrifice in the name of their lofty ideals. The fascists do everything in the name of fighting “degeneracy” and protecting the “white race”, and similarly the liberals fight for the oppressed “races” and “genders.” All things Stirner found to be nothing more than aberrations.
Perhaps, increasingly, users of the vast interwebs are coming to the same conclusion.There has been utter madness exposed by the activities of liberals and fascists in the name of identity politics, in the name of things that exist purely in our minds.
But not just on the internet.
Islamic terrorists murdering civilians not just for their god, but because they are perceived as a part of a threatening, evil civilization, the fascist who murdered the member of parliament of the United Kingdom for being a “traitor” to “Britain,” or the sniper who went after “white people” for the shooting of “blacks” by police officers.
What Stirner’s critique of fixed ideas reveals is that all those people gave themselves up for something that doesn’t exist, something that is purely imaginary. Whatever pleasure they got from doing so, through their rage or other emotions, did so at the expense of the rest of their ego or self.
You see, most people aren’t just all about one thing, we have many things we find pleasurable and valuable to ourselves, including reasoning and empathy. When someone allows a fixed idea, or even one pleasure to dominate themselves, their ego is being repressed, they are not, so to speak, being themselves.
In this way, Stirner critiqued states, religions, and capitalism. Property, laws, and gods had no legitimacy onto themselves for nothing but he had power over himself. To Stirner, the whole world was his property, as since he was material and the world was material, he could control it. He was a rather unique individual, who even in writing his masterwork “The Ego and It’s Own” was defying the powers of the censors, and making enemies on both the left and right.
When people feel as though their states, their economies, or their faith have failed them, when they see people alienated from themselves doing acts of madness for mere fixed ideas, they might come to agree with him.
The value to leftists of Stirner’s ideology is that those who find merit in it are usually prevented from falling into the trap of reactionary ideologies like fascism and liberalism and everything in between. Egoism is not, in of itself a plan to destroy capitalism, although the “Union of Egos” that Stirner advocates can provide a model for a post-capitalist society considering its similarities to anarcho-syndicalism and mutualism. Rather it’s role is two-fold. It’s a debate tactic and a line of thinking many can find solace in.
In debate, reactionaries and liberals often don’t know how to deal with their core principles being fundamentally undermined, being exposed as naught but ghosts. After all, Stirner’s main point has merit, why should we just give ideas more power than ourselves?
As for solace, it can ease a great amount of heartache and handwringing. For the young teenagers and other vulnerable there is much to be gained by realizing the immaturity of putting ideals and platitudes before yourself, or even allowing society’s superstructure to dominate them. Someone struggling with their sexuality can use egoism to put their own feelings before societal, religious or ideological expectations. Someone who has lost faith in idealism and a utopian future can still find purpose in themselves and fight towards leftist causes simply because it is in their interest to do so. Someone who is inclined to self destruction, or acts of individual terror may find themselves forsaking such sacrifice and violence when they find that they’re putting mere ideas before their own being.
Perhaps those things are applicable, not just to events in the news, but to you or someone you know.
While Stirner famously claimed he staked his case on nothing, forsaking comforting universality, there is still comfort to be found in egoism. For me, I’ve found a valuable companion in understanding myself and fighting against the notion that the right wing has claimed the banner of individualism.